Record Number of Committees, but Most Ministers Skip Out on Meetings

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet has set up a record number of ministerial committees, but in most cases, more than half the committee members don't bother to attend meetings, a Haaretz investigation has found.

The cabinet has formed 49 ministerial committees; Netanyahu chairs 15 of them and Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman is a member of 39. But apart from the security cabinet and legislation committee, less than half the members of each committee attend meetings and sometimes only the chairman shows up, ministers say.

Most ministers and ministers' aides who were interviewed could not remember which committees their ministers belong to.

Some committees hardly ever convene and apart from their bombastic title are practically nonexistent. The cabinet secretariat refused to say when the committees convene or give details of the ministers' attendance at these meetings.

Ministerial committees are set up by a cabinet decision and serve as a mini-cabinet, whose members are authorized to make decisions. The decisions are distributed among ministers, who may object to them in the cabinet within two weeks. Barring such objection, the decisions become cabinet resolutions.

There are three kinds of ministerial committees. The first is statutory committees that are required by law. For example, the ministerial security committee (the "security cabinet" ), the ministerial committee for Shin Bet affairs and the ministerial committee on privatization. The second kind is standing committees, formed by the cabinet to deal with specific issues. These include committees for dealing with the Gaza Strip evacuees, violence, and science and technology.

The third kind of committee convenes to address a certain issue and then disperses.

They deal with legislation such as the "Hametz Law" (that bans selling leavened products during Passover ) and denying National Insurance allocations to people involved in terror, or with municipal policing issues and the Israel Lands Administration.

But ministers are confused and cannot say when the committees meet. A member of the committee for burial affairs said it had never convened.

But Alon Nuriel, spokesman of committee chair Religious Services Minister Yaakov Margi, said it has convened three times and "that minister never shows up so he says it hasn't convened."

The committee "to improve the Palestinians' condition in the West Bank" is one of the 15 committees chaired by Netanyahu. Its members are Yuval Steinitz, Dan Meridor, Moshe Ya'alon, Silvan Shalom, Avigdor Lieberman, Ehud Barak and Shalom Simhon.

The committee met once, in August 2009. No date has been set for another meeting.

Netanyahyu also chairs the "committee for coordinating activities between the cabinet and Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency." One minister was surprised to hear from Haaretz that he is a member.

The cabinet's decision stipulates the committee must meet at least three times a year, but the last time it convened was on September 27, 2009. It is scheduled to meet again on Monday.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman chairs the ministerial committee for "international aspects of Israel's fight against terror." Committee members could not remember when it last convened.

A minister's aide referred Haaretz to the cabinet secretariat, which refused to provide the information.